I'm not sure what prompted it, but a picture came to my mind recently that captured my thoughts and led to this article. I saw a soldier dressed in a crisp clean uniform and shiny shoes. He was marching with a group of soldiers on parade while the crowd cheered them on and the band played. It wasn't the celebration of those who had been in battle and won a great victory. Rather it was the pomp and ceremony of those who had acquired a position and were proudly displaying their ranks. There was a certain arrogance and superiority in their demeanor. They were on exhibit as models of the perfect soldier, but they were not an accurate representation of those who were active in service.
In contrast, I saw another soldier who was in a trench. His uniform was crumpled, torn and covered with dirt, blood and sweat. His shoes were nearly worn out; his body was too. He had fought in one battle after another and had been wounded numerous times, but he refused to give up. He was holding his ground against the enemy. It seemed he was beaten, but he knew better.
The parade soldier considered him a disgrace to the uniform and a shame to the regiment for putting himself in a position to be wounded by the enemy. Why couldn’t he be more like these polished, proud soldiers? Why couldn’t he uphold the dignity of the uniform and follow the regulations?
Yet the wounded soldier was the one who understood what the war was all about. He was the one actually changing the course of history for his generation and those who would come after them. He was the one who denied himself for the sake of a greater purpose. He wasn’t afraid to confront the enemy face to face because he was equipped and experienced in warfare. He knew how to conquer the enemy and gain inroads into his territory. He was willing to face danger, because he already knew the outcome.
The first soldier was nothing more than a showpiece holding up a public image of a warrior, but lacking the authenticity of experience and practical application, yet he received all the glory while the trench soldier was unnoticed. Although he appeared to be the perfect soldier, he wasn't. The soldier in the trench was.
There is a vast difference between the two. One knows Jesus personally and truly follows Him while the other leads a religious life based on what he has been taught about Jesus. The parade soldiers are “doing church” in the natural. They don’t need the Holy Spirit because they know all the ropes. They don’t need His leadership because they have learned all about leadership from other parade soldiers. They think they can carry on without any “outside help”, because they have never seen the battle. They put forth a great show, but one thing is lacking – the power that comes only from the Holy Spirit.
I wonder how we would feel about the Apostle Paul if he lived in our day. He was definitely a trench soldier. But he also knew what it was like to be a parade soldier, an empty showpiece. He had been a Pharisee who thought he was righteous and doing the work of God as he marched in the parades to the beat of the cheering crowd. He knew what it was like to hold a position that commanded the respect of other men and put him in a place of power over them.
But one encounter with Jesus Christ caused him to leave all that behind to become a trench soldier – a real soldier, one who understood by experience what was truly important, who understood the enemy, who understood the power of the Holy Spirit that was within him, and the cost of the war. Jesus had met many of those Pharisees and warned His followers against being like them. So, Paul left behind the rank of parade soldier to be promoted to the perfect soldier, one who was more than outward show, who had substance, the Spirit of God, at work in him.
As he embarked on this new journey, he was almost always surrounded by controversy and chaos, yet he was never the one who caused it. He simply spoke the truth of the gospel with all the power and authority of God working through him. That’s the mark of the perfect soldier - the power of God working freely through them. That was enough to stir up every demon spirit who wanted to stop the gospel from being preached. Everywhere Paul went, there were enemies of the cross who would twist his words and his purpose. He was persecuted and placed in dangerous circumstances on a regular basis. Did that stop him from preaching the Word? No! He understood the war, the enemy, and the outcome. He wasn't worried about his life or his reputation. He wanted to please God more than anything else. He wanted to fight a good fight, finish the course God had set before him and receive the reward he knew was waiting for him.
Paul wrote about the "trench soldiers" versus the "parade soldiers" in 1 Corinthians 4:9-14. "For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised. Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace; And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day. I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.”
The parade soldiers may look down on the trench soldiers, but their well-being depends on them. They may wonder why these trench soldiers can't keep their clothes clean and stay far enough away from the enemy to keep from getting wounded. They may say if that soldier would shape-up, there wouldn't be so much controversy surrounding them. But while the "parade soldier" stands by or retreats, allowing the enemy to advance, the trench soldier gains ground and holds it. He gets the job done.
Paul didn't try to cause trouble. He didn't do or say things just so he could add another badge to his collection or another type of persecution to his list. But he would not back down from the truth. He would not drop the banner of Jesus Christ and run. Why? Because he knew what was really important, not just for himself, but for the whole world. Not just for his generation, but for ours, too.
The whole purpose of this comparison is to ask ourselves these questions: “Am I a parade soldier or a trench solider? Am I serious about what I do in the Kingdom of God? Is it a sideline of my life, or my whole life? Have I given my all to Jesus, following His command to bring others to Him, or am I just “doing church” on a natural level? Am I working in my own power, or in the power of the Holy Spirit?”
A parade soldier may look like the perfect soldier, but that’s only in the eyes of the world. When the battle comes, they are not equipped because they are not fully led by God’s Spirit. So they are unable to accomplish anything of any real value. Their accomplishments are on a temporary, natural level rather than a spiritual one. They are distracted by the crowd around them and the expectations of their peers.
A trench soldier isn’t out to win accolades from the world, but to please Jesus and set others free from the power of the enemy. He is fully engaged in the war and oblivious to any outside distraction. He does what is right, regardless of the cost.
In the early days of the Church, there was a whole army of trench soldiers, and they ‘turned the world upside down’. God is calling for soldiers in this generation who are willing to give their all to make a difference in the world and to call out others in the church to join them. He needs those who are not entangled with this life, but are sold out to Jesus Christ and willing to enlist, having counted the cost. He doesn’t draft soldiers; we have to enlist. But before we enlist, there are a few things we need to know.
One of the promises Jesus gave us is that people would hate us...just like they hated Him. In John 15:19, He said, “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.”
Then in 2 Timothy 3:12 we are told, "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution."
Jesus didn’t try to hide any of this from us, neither did any of the apostles. They wanted us to be prepared and realize the importance and seriousness of the service we are entering, that this is a war. We didn’t start it, and we are not to add to it. We are simply to stand for what is right according to God’s Word. And that causes the turmoil. But at the same time, it brings freedom to ourselves and those we minister to.
"Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier." (2 Timothy 2:3-4)
If we evaluate our position and find that we are a parade solider, we don’t have to settle for that rank. We can move up to be the perfect soldier, complete in Christ, working in the trenches and the Spirit of the Lord working with us. Is it easy? No. Is it worth the sacrifice? Yes. For now and eternity.
“Blessed be the Lord my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight.”